Lightning Systems Turns Ford Vans into Plug-in Hybrids, Fuel Cells

Ford Motor Co. sells about 130,000 Transit vans annually, all with gasoline or diesel engines. Now there is a green option.

Lightning Systems of Loveland, Colo., has launched a conversion business, building the LightningElectric Ford Transit — a plug-in electric that can travel 100 miles per charge. It went on sale in March. A hydrogen fuel cell version with twice the range will be available in August

“From a driving standpoint, they’re identical with the motors, batteries, transmission, the whole integration with the vehicle,” said Tim Reeser, chief executive of Lightning Systems.

But going green will cost some green. The Lightning Systems modified Transit cost about $25,000 more than a gas or diesel Ford Transit even after subsidies from environmental agencies. And that’s after a $300,000 grant from California for each hydrogen fuel cell Ford Transit. There is a $50,000 voucher available in California for the Lightning Electric Ford Transit. A gasoline-powered Ford Transit costs about $40,000.

“Some of this is the nature of early stage, low-volume production products,” Reeser said. “It’s very expensive at first, and then as volume increases, the costs come down fast. Initially you have to be able to stimulate the market.”

LightningElectric Ford Transit chassis.

LightningElectric Ford Transit chassis. (Photo: Lightning Systems)

Customers for the LightningElectric Ford Transit so far include XPO Sales, which provides busing services for parkiong at Los Angeles International Airport and San Diego Airport and a delivery group that FedEx contracts. Order numbers are usually in the tens, not the thousands, Reeser said.

The first customer for the hydrogen fuel cell version is California hydrogen fuel station provider Stratus Fuel, which has ordered 100.

The numbers are small, but Reeser expects to ramp up quickly.

“We’re at a critical milestone now where the supply chain works. We have developed a compelling product. It’s smooth, quiet and has lots of benefits in terms of noise, vibration and harshness of the vehicle. It’s clean, so now it’s all about getting to volume so the price comes down,” Reeser said.

Next year at this time, he expects to have sold 1,500 Ford Transit Lightning and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In two years, 5,000.

Read Next: Ford Unveils the Freshened 2019 Transit Connect Cargo Van

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